Pete Carroll

How Browns not hiring Robert Saleh affects 49ers, NFL coaching market

How Browns not hiring Robert Saleh affects 49ers, NFL coaching market

San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh conducted Round 2 of his head-coaching interview on Saturday. He presented his case on national television for 2 hours, 49 minutes.

The Cleveland Browns, apparently, were not watching -- or did not care.

Saleh’s defense crushed the Minnesota offense. Yet, on Sunday morning, the Browns reportedly opted to hire Vikings offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski as their next head coach.

Immediately following the 49ers’ 27-10 beatdown of the Vikings, coach Kyle Shanahan was asked if he felt like the team’s dominating defensive performance increased the chances he would lose Saleh from his coaching staff.

“Hopefully, they're not making their decision just off that game,” Shanahan said of the Browns. “He's done a good job all year. But I hope I didn't. We'll see how that plays out. I was pumped with the defense.”

The news of Stefanski’s hiring came as a shock to 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman, who has endorsed Saleh for the head-coaching position with the Browns. Sherman reacted with disgust on Twitter:

“Wow just wow...... just W....O....W.... guess I should have expected it”

Saleh’s defense held Stefanski’s offense to 147 total yards, setting a 49ers playoff record. It was the fewest yards allowed in an NFL playoff game since Jan. 3, 2015, when Carolina held Arizona to 78 net yards.

On Saturday, Sherman said there was no doubt in his mind that Saleh earned the opportunity to be a head coach. The Browns position was the only job interview Saleh got, and it was the last job opening in the NFL. Saleh interviewed with the Browns last weekend while the 49ers had a bye week as the playoffs opened.

“I heard a lot of people and read a lot of media reports talking about this game would decide the Cleveland Browns coaching position between their offensive coordinator and Saleh,” Sherman said. “If that's the way they want to decide it, I think Saleh put on a great performance and he deserves consideration.”

The Browns appeared determined to hire an offensive-minded head coach to help mold quarterback Baker Mayfield, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 draft. Stefanski becomes the third head coach for Mayfield in three seasons, following Hue Jackson and Freddie Kitches. Both Jackson and Kitchens are offensive coaches.

Saleh’s defensive background might have been viewed as a negative, but according to sources, Saleh laid out a detailed plan in his session with Browns ownership and management.

Saleh pointed out that many of the NFL’s top teams have created continuity on offense with head coaches who do not have backgrounds on offense. Among those coaches who have made it work with great success are Bill Belichick, Pete Carroll, John Harbaugh and Mike Tomlin.

Saleh expressed that the key to sustained success, according to someone with knowledge of Saleh’s plan, was to develop the coaches who develop the players. The system should be able to continue to succeed even if a team’s top offensive coach moves into a head-coaching position.

Meanwhile, Sherman expressed skepticism about the NFL’s hiring processes when it comes to minority coaching candidates. Saleh is Arab American.

“Obviously, there hasn't been a lot of hires of coaches of color, or minority coaches,” Sherman said. “You never know. But I think he deserves a spot. He's done everything he can to put himself in a position for it.”

[RELATED49ers defense remains fresh in dominant win over Vikings]

Despite apparently being shut out on this NFL coaching cycle, Saleh’s performance this season calling the shots for the 49ers’ defense would seem to place him near the top of the list of candidates for future years.

“We have faith in coach and whatever he calls we are going to go out there and execute and make plays happen,” 49ers linebacker Kwon Alexander said. “He is legendary, he is going to be one of the best to do it.”

Why Marshawn Lynch was 'hesitant' on Seahawks' delay penalty vs. 49ers

Why Marshawn Lynch was 'hesitant' on Seahawks' delay penalty vs. 49ers

The 49ers celebrated a victory that meant so much Sunday night in Seattle.

San Francisco did enough over the course of the game to escape with a 26-21 victory over the Seattle Seahawks to clinch the NFC West title and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

The 49ers also avoided the one key mistake to lose the game. That blunder, instead, belonged to the Seahawks.

Actually, it was more than just one mistake. But the delay-of-game penalty when Seattle had a first-and-goal situation at the 49ers’ 1-yard line in the closing seconds was the major late-game meltdown.

NBC Sports analyst Cris Collinsworth called it just minutes later on the broadcast, “One of the biggest mistakes of the entire season.”

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, his staff and team absolutely, inexplicably blew it. A day later, Carroll tried to explain what happened.

The problem occurred when the Seahawks tried to substitute running back Marshawn Lynch into the game to take over at the goal line. Rookie running back Travis Homer had been the team’s back in their two-minute offense.

However, Lynch was shown a couple of times on the final drive on the sideline wearing a beanie. His helmet was not in his hands. He clearly was not expecting to enter the game at a moment’s notice just days after signing after a 14-month football layoff.

“Was Marshawn delayed a little bit? He was hesitant, but I didn’t see Homer at the time, but Marshawn was going on, he was supposed to go, and we just needed to get it done,” Carroll said Monday morning during an appearance of Seattle radio station KIRO-FM (H/T Seattle Times).

Seattle took over down by five points with 2:27 remaining in the fourth quarter. They had two timeouts. They used both of their timeouts when the clock was stopped.

The Seahawks called their timeout with the play clock running down with 46 seconds remaining. Then, they called another timeout four seconds later before their fourth-and-10 play from the 49ers’ 12.

After gaining a first down, the Seahawks let 15 seconds tick off the clock before getting everybody lined up in order to spike the ball with 22 seconds left. Seattle opted to kill the clock instead of calling for quarterback Russell Wilson to try to sneak it into the end zone on first down.

Then, things got really crazy.

As soon as the spike occurred, the 40-second play clock began.

Lynch was told to enter the game. But he did not appear to be immediately ready to leave the sideline and enter the huddle. With 21 seconds remaining on the play clock, the crowd and Collinsworth react -- "Here comes Lynch" -- when Lynch starts to jog out onto the field.

There was obvious confusion as Seattle offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer tried to get different personnel into the game. Wilson looked toward the sideline as he awaited the substitutions to match the play call.

Carroll said the spike on first down to stop the clock apparently gave his team a false sense of security.

“And sometimes what happens when you spike the ball and kill the clock, guys kind of sense like it’s a timeout and it’s not,” Carroll said Monday. “It’s just a regular sequence, so there was just a little bit of hesitation.

“By the time (Lynch) got out there, they called the play, we were late, and that’s it.”

In fact, at the time the play clock expired and referee Tony Corrente announced the delay penalty, the Seahawks’ offense was still in the huddle.

The infraction moved the ball back to the 5-yard line. Lynch left the game before he even got into the game. He returned to the Seattle sideline.

[RELATED49ers hope to have Dee Ford, Jaquiski Tartt for first NFL playoff game]

Wilson threw incomplete passes on second and third downs, including a play the Seahawks believed should have been pass interference on 49ers linebacker Fred Warner. Wilson completed his fourth-down pass to Jacob Hollister near the goal line.

But 49ers linebacker Dre Greenlaw made the Seahawks pay for their earlier mistakes when he tackled Hollister just short of the end zone to seal the 49ers’ victory.

Why analyst says NFL officials 'failed' Seahawks on pass interference non-call

Why analyst says NFL officials 'failed' Seahawks on pass interference non-call

The controversy continues.

On the penultimate offensive play for the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday night against the 49ers, Russell Wilson and Co. were faced with a third-and-goal from the 5-yard line with 15 seconds to play.

Wilson tried to find his tight end, Jacob Hollister, on a quick turnaround route but Hollister was unable to make the catch, as he was tangled up with 49ers linebacker Fred Warner.

NBC Sports rules analyst Terry McAulay was in the broadcast booth with the “Sunday Night Football” crew and noted that at the very least, the officials should have paused the game in order to review the call on the field.

"He's clearly got him grabbed, significantly hindering the receiver. This should be a booth review. I'm surprised they have not stopped the game," McAulay mentioned on the broadcast.

Coaches are not able to challenge plays in the final two minutes, as all replay reviews must be initiated by the officials.

NFL senior VP of officiating Al Riveron said after the game that the booth officials reviewed the play in real-time, but didn't feel the contact warranted further discussion. Seahawks coach Pete Carroll wasn't happy about the call Monday morning and said he hopes the league takes a look at the sequence.

NFL.com’s Gregg Rosenthal explains why he considers the end of arguably the most exciting game of the NFL regular season a “failure” by the league:

“If the NFL is going to take the challenge flag out of the coaches' hands in the final two minutes of the game, it needs to make sure it takes the appropriate time to review such a game-altering play. 

"If someone as experienced as McAulay saw the defender "significantly hindering" the play, it deserves a longer look -- at the very least. While Hollister initiated the contact, Warner is literally holding Hollister's arms down when the ball flies by.

"Taking more time to review the play and then letting it stand would have been curious, but a lot more understandable. There should have been more angles to see and Riveron could have broken the play down in slow motion. 

"If the league office wanted to still stick with the call on the field, it would have looked like a questionable bit of execution by the replay officials rather than the failure in process we got. If this play wasn't worth examining outside the 20-second frenzy of a running play clock, it makes me wonder why exactly the rule was ever put in place."

The New Orleans Saints faced a similar situation after last season’s NFC Championship, in which a blatantly missed pass interference penalty resulted in the NFL allowing coaches to throw the challenge flag on plays with potential pass interference beginning this season.

[RELATED: 49ers hope to have Ford, Tartt back for divisional-round]

Regardless of what the conversation might be, the Seahawks now must turn their attention to the Philadelphia Eagles for a wild-card weekend showdown, while the 49ers get a week off to prepare to host a divisional-round game on Jan. 11 at Levi's Stadium.